On the evening of March 9, Maryville College hosted a lecture by Dr. Thomas A. Schwartz, associate professor of history and political science at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. Schwartz, a distinguished scholar on American foreign policy after World War II, presented a lecture entitled “Kissinger and American Foreign Policy.”
The night was opened by Maryville College’s own Dr. Daniel Klingensmith, Department Chair of the Humanities and professor of history. Klingensmith, who studied under Schwartz as a sophomore at Harvard, opened the event with a praiseworthy salute to the impact Schwartz has had on Klingensmith’s academic life.
After the introductions, Schwartz took the podium and commenced the evening’s erudite allocution.
The lecture was based upon research Schwartz has been conducting in relation to the life and ideology of former Secretary of State, Dr. Henry Kissinger. Kissinger, who was a leading architect of US foreign policy during the presidencies of Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, has been one of the most controversial figures in American political history since World War II.
In the lecture, Schwartz attempted to briefly outline the career of the German-born statesmen. Using characteristic equanimity, Schwartz gave a very human portrait to a very complicated figure.
We were informed by Schwartz that Kissinger, who celebrated his 93th birthday last year, was born to an orthodox Jewish family in Furth, Weimar Republic—now modern day Germany— in 1923. After his family fled from Germany in response to the advent of Nazism, they settled in Washington Heights, Manhattan.
In 1943, while attending classes in accounting at the City College of New York, Kissinger was drafted into the US military, ultimately culminating in his being made US commander in the German town of Krefeld.
It was this experience, said Schwartz, that would change Kissinger’s life, ultimately putting him on the path to becoming the 56th US Secretary of State. It was this taste of authority that created a Kissinger who would learn to understand the nature of power and would lead him to a career of speculation as to what was power’s proper use.
Schwartz continued through Kissinger’s career as a student discussing his 388-page, record-breaking undergraduate thesis entitled “The Meaning of History,” his becoming a bestselling author while still in grad school, and his earning a doctorate from Harvard.
After setting up the early life of Kissinger, Schwartz moves on to the man that history will remember most vividly.
In 1968, Kissinger was appointed by President Richard Nixon as National Security Advisor, and then, in 1973, as Secretary of State. It was as Secretary of State that Kissinger would assume his fame.
During the Nixon and Ford administrations, Kissinger began to lay out a controversial foreign policy that would forever mark his legacy.
As Schwartz explained, Kissinger’s view was that the international system was anarchic, and therefore, needed a basis in reality. For this reason, Kissinger was a believer in viewing the world through the lens of the long term. Because of this view, Kissinger held to a belief that other, seemingly short-term goals—such as human rights—were only secondary to making the world a safer place.
For instance, Kissinger was willing to make peace with the dictatorial government in Chile, yet, was a Cold Warrior who wanted to limit the Soviet Union’s power. This view and others like it, explained Schwartz, is what still causes widespread animosity towards Kissinger.
After Schwartz finished his scholarly presentation, he joined the few people that chose to stay and happily answered questions relating to the topic.
For the millennial generation that now calls MC home, the talk was an appropriate conjecture in the average rounds of study. Although many students may not know much, if anything, about Kissinger, the lecture showed a glimpse of a critical moment in US history that continues to resonate to this day.
Aside from his biography on Kissinger, Schwartz is also working on another book, which he informed the audience would be a history of the Cold War.